Re-Viewing James Bond

Do Daniel Craig’s 007 films stand the test of time?

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I’ve never been the biggest fan of James Bond. Probably not the best way to start a review of a film franchise. Another point against me is that I’m not reviewing the entire series; I’ve only ever seen five Bond films, four of which star Daniel Craig.

Historically, I’ve been hit or miss with this franchise; on original viewings, I loved the first two films, but as time grew on, the second slipped out of my favor. The third was, frankly, the very best, and then the fourth was a major letdown, to the point I only saw it once. So I think it is safe to say that I am entering this marathon with mixed feelings.

Bond has also never been one of my favorite characters; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Craig’s version, but I’ve never been interested in going back to see any of the others (besides that one time when I watched Goldeneye, and that was more or less just to see what all the fuss was about). I’m not big into the spy genre in general; besides the Mission: Impossible movies (which keep getting better and better with each new installment), it’s a genre that I rarely venture into. I am more likely to watch a spoof- like Johnny English- than I am an actual spy thriller.

But No Time to Die is somewhat around the corner, so I think now is as good a time as any to revisit Craig’s first four flicks to see how they stand up- and to make sure I’m ready for all the twists and turns planned for his final drive in the Aston Martin.

Casino Royale

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Casino Royale was the very first Bond movie I saw. I was working at Blockbuster at the time, and since we got five free rentals a week, naturally I picked it up when it came out.

I’ve always held Casino Royale in high regard; it has excellent action pieces, and a compelling story- albeit one that took me multiple viewings to completely follow. But my favorite thing about the movie was it’s brutality, which is an odd thing to say; while I’d never seen a Bond film prior to this one, I was familiar with the character. I knew that Bond was a svelte spy, always in a suit, sporting wild gadgets, and with a martini nearby (shaken, not stirred). But the Bond in Casino Royale only seemed to wear suits when he needed to, and he got his hands dirty (read: bloody) quickly and often. And the one time someone asked him if he wanted his martini shaken or stirred, he replied with, “Do I look like I give a damn?”

I’d never before been interested in the James Bond franchise, but this was a character that entirely interested me. Craig’s Bond interested me so much that I have only ever ventured out of my way to watch one Bond flick with a different actor. And I’m sorry, I know people hold Goldeneye (and the video game adaptation) in high regard, but I honestly can’t remember a damn thing about that movie- other than, as is the custom, Sean Bean dies. I simply wasn’t interested in seeing another actor playing a character that- in my mind, at least- belonged to Daniel Craig’s performance.

Going back to watch Casino Royale again, I have to admit that it didn’t quite live up to my memories of it. Don’t get me wrong; it is still an excellent film. But over time, I’ve come to recognize it at two parts of a whole- without Quantum of Solace, it is simply the first part of the bigger picture. It does a good job setting things up, but instead of providing a solid conclusion, it more or less just ends. I love that it set up the first ever direct sequel in the franchise, but comparably, it ends up weakening the movie itself a little bit. Sure, Bond beat Le Chiffre (actually, Mr. White did that, while Bond was tied to a chair- really, if Quantum hadn’t intervened, I really don’t know how Bond was going to win this fight), but we were no closer to finding out who he was working for at the end of the film (again, besides Mr. White showing up every now and then).

In fact, Bond’s role in this film is not too dissimilar to Indiana Jones’ in Raiders of the Lost Arc. Ok, unlike Indy, Bond does influence the outcome by beating Le Chiffre at his poker game and following some breadcrumbs, but he wouldn’t have survived Le Chiffre without Quantum coming in to kill Le Chiffre at the last minute, and he wouldn’t have known to go after Mr. White without Vesper telling him to. While you could argue that this is how spy movies go, it kinda feels like Bond is just handed the pieces he needs rather than him finding them out through his espionage training.

In fact, Bond was entirely duped in this movie, believing Vesper was on his side until the moment she purposefully left him a clue to discover she wasn’t. As Mr. White will say to Bond in Quantum, “I heard so much about you from Vesper. The real shame is, if she hadn’t killed herself we would’ve had you too.” In reality, these are all building blocks to Bond becoming the cold, calculating agent he eventually will be at the end of Quantum of Solace, but in the context of this movie alone, Bond kinda sucks at his job.

And while I remember the movie for having some fantastic action sequences- the chase at the beginning is one of this movie’s selling points, as is the entire Miami sequence- those moments are few and very far between. Whatever parts of the movie aren’t spent on Bond’s ascension to “double o” status is taken up by a card game. Admittedly, this makes sense given the the movie has “casino” in the title, and the story is very compelling even when the actors are just sitting at a card table, but I could see how someone who isn’t invested in a James Bond adventure might lose interest.

What I loved about Casino Royale- besides the fantastic action pieces- was that it made Bond accessible to me. As someone who had never seen a Bond movie and who wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to take the time to watch 20 plus movies of varying quality- it allowed me to enter the franchise with a fresh start. I also enjoyed the fact that it was setting up a larger story. Le Chiffre was a layered villain- one almost sympathizes- and his mysterious organization- introduced simply through Mr. White- left just enough breadcrumbs to wonder who they were and what they wanted.

Casino Royale introduced me to many actors who would become favorites down the line- from Craig himself to Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, and Jeffrey Wright.

While another movie I’m about to talk about continues to take the top spot on my favorite Bond films list, I’ve always held Casino Royale up as one of the best spy movies, and for the most part, it holds up. It was always my second favorite on this particular list, and it might have slipped down to three since revisiting it, but if you’ve got to start your Bond journey somewhere, this remains the movie to do it with.

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Favorite Scene:

It’s got to be that opening chase sequence. It perfectly sets up the tone of the film and lets us know that this new Bond is tough and gritty and won’t stop until he’s done.

Favorite Quote:

“Is the man deranged? And where the hell is he? In the old days if an agent did something that embarrassing he’d have a good sense to defect. Christ, I miss the Cold War.” -M (when Judi Dench was announced to be playing Commander Root in Disney’s Artemis Fowl, this quote alone sold me on her casting).

Quantum of Solace

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If Casino Royale was my first Bond film, then Quantum of Solace earns the distinction of being the first Bond film I saw in theaters. And I remember loving it.

Like Casino Royale, Quantum opened with an excellent action sequence, culminating in the realization that this movie was opening a mere 10 minutes following Casino’s end.

Quantum of Solace, unfortunately, has garnered a bit of a bad rep ever since it’s release. Having been completed during the writer’s strike- and reportedly some scenes having to be written by Daniel Craig himself so production didn’t come to a halt- I have always felt like it was a good movie that could have been a great movie.

Revisiting it, it still holds up for me. It’s not quite as well-executed- or as well plotted- as Casino, but it does a good job of building upon the foundation that its predecessor built. We get more of the mysterious organization, more action, and some truly great moments (“We have people everywhere” never fails to thrill me, as does the Tosca scene).

I admittedly hadn’t watched Quantum in a very long time; my initial opinions had soured against it, especially once Skyfall came out. But honestly, revisiting it now, I do think it was an improvement upon Casino Royale. The action was more refined and the plot felt less hidden beneath subtext. You could argue that it may have lost some of the nuance and intelligence that made Casino Royale so good, and I’d be forced to agree with you, but Bond felt more Bond than he did in the first film- or at least more like what I knew of Bond- and he completed the growth arc that was started with Vesper’s death. I remember walking out of the theater satisfied, and though it’s been a long time to get back around to it, I find that I’m just as satisfied with it this time around.

If I had to give any complaints, it is really that the film’s villain is entirely forgettable. Mr. Greene doesn’t hold a fizzled-out candle to Le Chiffre, and with villains to come like Silva and Blofeld, he simply fades away into obscurity. I feel like classic Bond was always defined by his villains; maybe the idea here was to create a very realistic villain for the time the movie released- and it probably worked at the time- but where Greene is very believable as a corporate baddie, he just doesn’t have the lasting power as any of the other foes Bond has fought.

Also, while I’m glad that the movie was more action packed, the opening half hour was a little too action packed. There were so many chase sequences one after another that it was a little disengaging; while the action itself was good, it was so frequent that it was easy to lose track of why the action was happening. For example, the boat chase: I still can’t think of a plot reason why Bond stole a boat to go after Camille. I know that he needed to so that we had a reason for her character to be in the movie later, but plot-wise, it didn’t feel like Bond had enough to go on- either to know she could help him or to really know she was in danger- from what we’d seen so far. Maybe that’s just me. But I could definitely see how someone could find the opening of the movie hard to follow. It might be too much to complain that this movie has too much action, especially after Casino Royale and it’s action-lite second half, but if I complained that Aquaman had too many scenes interrupted by explosions, then I can for damn sure complain that Quantum had too many chase sequences in the opening act.

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Favorite Scene:

The opening sequence is simply thrilling. No context, just Bond in a car chase, until finally, you realize that he’s got Mr. White in the trunk.

Favorite Quote:

“We have people everywhere. Don’t we?” I loved this line from Mr. White, as well as it’s follow up from M below. But I also loved that Mr. White followed it up in Spectre by telling Bond that Blofeld was everywhere.

“When someone says ‘we have people everywhere’, you expect it to be hyperbole. Florists use that expression. It doesn’t mean there’s somebody working for them in the bloody room!” -M… again. Damn, Judi Dench.

Skyfall

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I’m gonna preface this review with the fact that Skyfall has long been my favorite James Bond film. I’m giving you that preface, because I’m starting off with a complaint.

Quantum of Solace felt like the end of Bond’s origin story; it delivered a story that closed out the chapter on the formative days of 007’s career, and on the Vesper story line. But it never felt quite right to me that Skyfall didn’t pick up the threads that Quantum left on the floor.

Not that Skyfall had any need or duty to continue navigating the organization known as Quantum; in fact, it was refreshing to have a solo film that wasn’t directly tied to the plot lines of the previous two. But perhaps- especially given what came in Spectre (we’ll get there)- Quantum (or Spectre) should have felt just behind the scenes. I missed Mr. White lurking in the shadows. I even missed Felix Leiter showing up when Bond needed a hand (glad he’s coming back in No Time to Die).

Because Skyfall was a stand-alone story- and a very personal one for Bond- it felt to me upon revisiting it that it was missing something in the context of the greater franchise. And not necessarily anything that should have been in the film itself; it was almost like there should have been another film before it, between it and Quantum. It made the first two movies feel like an unfinished trilogy. Bond looks noticeably older in this film, and it just makes it feel like we’ve missed a major part of his story.

But enough about what Skyfall wasn’t. As I said, on it’s own, it has always been my favorite Bond film. I loved that Bond wasn’t at his best in this film. I loved that we got to explore some of Bond’s personal history. I loved that Silva was James Bond if Bond had been broken to the point of turning. I loved the cinematography- especially the burning house at the end (a visual director Sam Mendes also brought to stunning life in 1917).

Having never seen most of the rest of this franchise, Skyfall struck me as the most “James Bond” of Craig’s films. It brought back the car, it brought back the gadgets, it brought back Q and Moneypenny. But at the same time, it lacked a lot of the espionage; because it was such a personal story to James, it felt less spy thriller and more thematic action film.

It remains, however, a beautiful film. I think this one has aged possibly the best of all Daniel Craig’s Bond flicks.

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Favorite Scene:

The moment when the house is on fire and Bond is running through the dark. It is just a beautifully shot piece of cinematography and light work, and one that I’m glad Mendes and his team expanded and perfected for 1917.

Favorite Quote:

This exchange between Q and 007; one thing I absolutely loved about Skyfall is that it injected more humor than its immediate predecessors.

Q : Well, I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.

James Bond : Oh, so why do you need me?

Q : Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.

James Bond : Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pajamas.

Spectre

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Of course, it had to end here. Let’s talk about Spectre.

You see, when I saw Spectre, I did not like it. I simply did not. First, it did that thing that many movies were doing at the time- you know the one, where we all know who the villain is, but the movie pretends that it isn’t the person we know it is, and when the villain reveals his “true” name, we aren’t surprised because we already knew it, and the protagonist isn’t surprised because the name doesn’t have the weight in the movie that it does with the fans. Star Trek Into Darkness did it when they tried to convince us that Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t playing Khan, and Spectre did it here with Blofeld. He tells Bond he isn’t speaking to Oberhauser- someone he grew up with- but instead is speaking to Blofeld- a name that means jack shit to James Bond and everyone else in the room except for Blofeld himself. Hell, Bond even quips that it’s a “catchy name,” and has no other emotional response to it. I simply hate when studios put something like that into a movie. It honestly would have made more sense had we started with the Blofeld name, only for him to reveal in this scene that we was actually the child Bond grew up with- that would have made a major impact on the character. Like finding out that Davros in Doctor Who was once a child that the Doctor saved. Or finding out that Darth Vader was Luke’s father.

But that was a nitpick; it bugs me, but it’s there. It was all the rage in the mid-2010’s. No, the thing that really irked me at the time was Blofeld’s single line, “I am the author of all your pain.” It’s, admittedly, a terrific line. But at the time when I saw this movie, it didn’t feel earned. It felt like a cop out, because he was just saying he caused all of the bad events in previous films without us being able to go back and see the threads he was pulling.

So in revisiting these movies, and planning to see the next one, I knew I had to watch this one again. And I wasn’t looking forward to it. Even worse, I had to buy it, because it isn’t streaming anywhere right now (I could have rented it, but I had some eleventh-hour faith that maybe I’d want to watch it more than once in the future, so owning it made more sense- hey, it’s the same reason I own the prequels and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).

And… I couldn’t really see why I’d hated it so much. Yes, the scene when Christophe Waltz proclaims he’s given himself the name Blofeld for… reasons… is still stupid. But so is Cumberbatch’s dramatic “My name is Khan”, and I still thoroughly enjoy Into Darkness. And, sure, I’m still scratching my head wondering how Blofeld was in control of Silva; I mean, it’s not like he wasn’t, but Silva was played very much like he was his own thing, not like Le Chiffre or Mr. Greene who were clearly reporting to someone else. But the concept that Spectre was behind Quantum or that Quantum was a branch (or, more aptly, a tentacle) of Spectre more or less works. I still don’t buy that Blofeld was actively working against Bond in Casino Royale or even in Quantum of Solace, but at least now I can buy that he was the head honcho that those villains were answering to.

Rewatching Spectre, I find that it has a lot in common with Quantum; it is picking up the story that began in the movie it follows. It has Bond still dealing with M’s death. It continues the narrative of whether or not the “double o” program is obsolete (which it turns out is playing into Blofeld’s schemes). And more than that; it picks back up the story that Skyfall seemingly abandoned, by bringing back Mr. White and the conspiracy that Bond was trying to dismantle in his first two films.

If I’m being honest… Spectre managed the biggest 180 from my initial thoughts on it. I mean, I hated this movie. I spent plenty of time ripping it to shreds. But watching it again now… I’m thoroughly enjoying it. And I’m kicking myself for not rewatching it sooner.

I said earlier that Casino Royale was dethroned as my second favorite in this series. It was pushed down to number three because Skyfall was pushed down to number two… meaning Spectre- beyond my wildest imagination- just became my favorite Bond film. Maybe it’s my love for connected universe stories, which the MCU has been expanding for me for the last few years. But what I wanted most from Skyfall I got in Spectre: the continuation of the story that began in Casino Royale and Quantum. And my newfound love for this movie means I’m getting more and more excited for Craig’s final outing as 007.

Spectre still isn’t without it’s faults; in fact, I still think that there was a better version of basically the same plot released in the same year with Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation. Seriously, the basic premise of each movie is nearly identical- they even used the same filming location (Blenheim Palace, though Spectre pretended this was in Rome and not in England).

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And while I still think it would have been better if Spectre had been given better ground to stand on with it’s claims that Blofeld was behind everything, this is actually more of a complaint on Skyfall and not on Spectre. This film, however, actually did a very good job of building on everything that had come before- it was a proper sequel to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace as well as Skyfall. It is the movie that finally tied all of Bond’s previous films together; the wrapping paper might be a bit messy and at times it shows that it is more of a retcon than something that was planned from the start, but for what it’s worth, Spectre actually brought in something that I’ve wanted ever since I saw Quantum in theaters- the next piece of the puzzle.

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Favorite Scene:

I really love the scene when Bond discovers the Spectre meeting. It is just so iconic; the way Waltz is sitting entirely in shadows, and the whole room is on pins and needles. Sam Mendes strikes again with giving us a sequence that is perfectly lit.

Additionally, I loved the moment when Bond and Blofeld meet in the abandoned MI-6 headquarters, though I always felt that the writers missed a huge opportunity; when Blofeld tells Bond he can either die saving the girl or he can save himself and live with the guilt, that would have been a perfect time for Bond to say something like “You expect me to just walk away?” and for Blofeld to reply, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” I mean, come on! That’s Blofeld’s iconic line. Even I know this line. It better be in the next movie… that’s all I’m saying.

Favorite Quote:

“The man you are speaking to-” Just kidding. That reveal really does suck. I’ve got two quotes here. The first is from Mr. White: “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.” I just love the ambiguity here, how White believes Bond is in way over his head. My second, despite my concerns of its implication, is Blofeld’s “I am the author of all your pain.” Whether the movie can back that up or not, that is just a damn cool bit of dialogue.

Conclusion

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So there we are. I went into this with very different expectations; I knew I’d love Casino Royale. I figured I’d enjoy Quantum of Solace. I was assured that Skyfall would remain my favorite. And, for the sake of continuity, I’d put up with Spectre.

But I actually ended up enjoying Spectre way more than I anticipated- enough that it supplanted both Casino Royale and Skyfall to become my favorite Bond film.

So, do the Daniel Craig films hold up? While none of these are perfect films by any means, I think they’ve improved with age- especially the most recent film. Even though I enjoy these movies, I’m still not really a James Bond fan; if I were forced to pick a spy franchise, I honestly prefer Ethan Hunt and his funny way of running. But I’m a fan of the story that these Bond films have been building, and especially now with my newfound love of Spectre, I cannot wait to see No Time to Die when it comes out- hopefully in November.

I am just clever enough to get myself in trouble…

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